Dave and Helen are committed Christians. When their three children were young they exposed them to the Christian faith through Sunday school, Vacation Bible School, and Christian summer camp. They even home-schooled their children in an effort to instil Christian values.
But during the later teen years other influences, particularly friends, seemed to have more of an impact. It wasn’t long before drinking, drugs, and partying became the lifestyle, particularly with the youngest, a daughter. When she graduated from high school, she stopped going to church, got a job as a food server and soon moved out. Eventually she moved in with her non-Christian boyfriend.
Dave and Helen have a dilemma. How do they respond to her? What does their faith require of them? Do they draw a firm, values-based line and tell their adult daughter because they disagree with her lifestyle, she is not welcome in their home? Do they act as if nothing is wrong? Is there a middle ground?
Unfortunately, this is not an isolated occurrence among Christian families today. In fact, it seems to be more the rule than the exception. What are Christian parents to do when their children stray? What is a biblical response to this situation?
1. Crowd to Christ. Scripture says, “Give your burdens to the LORD and he will take care of you” (Psalm 55:22). Dealing with straying children provides a catalyst for us to grow in our dependence on Christ. God always wants us to trust Him more. Draw near to Him and He will draw near to you.
2. Pray. We cannot change other people. Only God can do that: “The king's heart is like a stream of water directed by the LORD; he guides it wherever he pleases” (Proverbs 21:1). We need to be asking Him to work in the heart of our errant child and for grace to respond rightly to the situation. Praying together as a family and couple will keep us humble and depending on the Lord.
3. Pull Together. Difficulties with children can potentially tear a couple apart and create rifts among your other children. Recognize this danger and counteract it by not allowing the wayward child and his or her antics to be the only thing you talk about. Continue to make time for yourselves. Strengthen your involvement with your other children and don’t try to hide the situation from them. When they ask questions about what’s going on, answer truthfully.
4. Think Long Term. I believe that if a child is truly the Lord’s He will pursue them and bring them back to Himself in time. "My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand.” (John 10:27–29). Although they may not be walking with Him now, we pray they may again one day. So we must be careful to not allow our pride or embarrassment to dictate actions that alienate them from us. Work to maintain open lines of communication.
5. Express Loving Acceptance. Tell your children you will always love them regardless of what they do. This is how Christ loves us. Our fellowship with Him is broken because we reject Him, not vice versa. How would you relate to your children if they were not yours? Likely you would be more accepting. Show the same acceptance as you would to other adults who are responsible for their own decisions.
6. Share Your Convictions. “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15–16 NIV) If our convictions are biblical, they will stand up to scrutiny. Think through the issues carefully yourself so you can make a convincing case. Respectfully and gently share what you believe about lifestyle choices and why you believe that way. Even if they don't change, they may, by God's grace, think about what you’ve said.
Since Cain children have strayed. It happens to families from every strata of society and every denomination of Christianity. To say it can be a heartbreaking experience to go through is an understatement. But it’s also an opportunity to see God work and faith grow. The important thing is how we respond. By His grace, we can deal with it, He can be glorified, and we’ll still have the opportunity to influence our kids for good.